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Whether you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight or lose a few pounds, knowing the definitions of terms relating to diet and exercise can help you make good choices.


Body Mass Index (BMI): One method of estimating body fat (the other method is by waist circumference). BMI is calculated by multiplying your weight in pounds by 703, and then dividing that number by your height in inches squared. You can also use Brooke’s BMI calculator.
Calorie: The number of calories listed on a food label tells you how many calories are in one serving. It’s important to remember that even small packages often contain more than one serving.
Calorie-Dense Foods: Foods that provide a lot of calories relative to portion size.
Carbohydrate: A sugar or starch such as pasta, bread, fruits vegetables, beans, or dairy that the body uses as its main energy source. Carbohydrates have 4 calories a gram.
Cholesterol: Is an odorless, white, waxy, powdery substance . You cannot taste it or see it in foods. The body needs ‘some’ cholesterol in order to function normally. The liver produces cholesterol.
Complex Carbohydrates: Starches, which make up plant tissue. You can find complex carbohydrates in foods such as grains and vegetables.
Empty Calories: Calories found in foods with little or no vitamins, minerals, fiber or other nutrients. Examples of foods with empty calories are soft drinks, punches, many pastries and candy.
Fat: Organic compounds made up of carbon and hydrogen that are the body’s most concentrated energy source. Fat is one of the essential nutrients that supply calories to the body. Fat provides nine calories per gram, more than twice the number provided by carbohydrate or protein. Small amounts of fat are necessary for normal body function.
Fiber: A carbohydrate found in plants that cannot be digested. Fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, found in beans, fruit and oats, dissolves in water. Insoluble fiber, found in whole grains and vegetables, doesn’t dissolve in water. Both types of fiber help with digestion, lower cholesterol levels and help control blood sugar.
HDL Cholesterol: Also called high-density lipoprotein. HDL helps carry the ‘bad cholesterol’ away from the walls of the arteries and returns it to the bloodstream, thus preventing the buildup of cholesterol in the artery walls. That’s why it is called the ‘good cholesterol.’ We want our HDL as high as possible – it makes us healthier.
High-Protein Diet: Diets that recommend eating 35 percent or more of calories from protein, versus the recommended 15 – 25 percent. These diets also recommend low carbohydrate consumption and are often high in total fat.
Hydrogenated Fat: This is an unsaturated fat that has been changed by a chemical process into a more solid, saturated fat. Though this improves the shelf life of the products in which this fat is used, it also increases the saturated fat content. It is commonly found in cakes, cookies, snacks, and other convenience food products.
LDL Cholesterol: Also called the low-density lipoprotein and the ‘bad cholesterol.’ LDL is lethal, we want it as low as possible. LDL carries the largest amount of cholesterol in the blood and is responsible for depositing cholesterol in the artery walls. An elevated LDL cholesterol level is associated with and increased risk of heart disease.
Lipid: This is a fatty substance that is present in blood and body tissues and includes both cholesterol and triglycerides.
Lipoprotein: A protein-coated package that carries fat and cholesterol through the body. Lipoproteins are classified by their density.
Metabolic Rate: The rate at which your body burns calories to maintain itself.
Monounsaturated Fat: A slightly unsaturated fat that is found in the greatest amounts in foods from plants, including olive and canola oil. Monounsaturated fat reduces LDL cholesterol, maintains HDL cholesterol (some studies show olive oil boosts HDL by 2-3 percent). This is the healthiest substitution for saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
Nutrient: A substance found in food that is important for good health.
Omega-3 Fat: These fatty acids have been found to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decrease pain associated with inflammation, lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks and decrease the risk of dementia. Found in fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts and canola oil.
Polyunsaturated Fat: A highly unsaturated fat that is found in food products derived from plants including safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oils. Like monounsaturated fat, it is a healthier alternative to saturated fat. Lowers LDL, unfortunately this also lowers HDL (the good cholesterol); reduces the risk for heart disease when substituted for saturated fat.
Protein: Organic compounds made up of amino acids, which in turn are composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and, in a few cases, sulfur. Proteins form the basis of all cells in the body and play a major role in many body processes. Proteins are found in plant and animal tissues.
Saturated Fat: Is usually solid at room temperature. Found commonly in animal products, such as beef, poultry, egg yolks, and dairy products. It is also found in a few vegetable products, such as coconut oil and cocoa. Saturated fat raises total and LDL cholesterol more than anything else in the diet. Significantly increases the risk for heart disease.
Simple Carbohydrate: Sugars, including glucose, fructose, sucrose and lactose. You can find simple carbohydrates in foods such as fruit and milk.
Total Cholesterol: This is the total of the HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and the VLDL cholesterol.
Trans Fat: Found in margarine, cookies, crackers, vegetable shortening and many fast foods. Trans fat raises LDL cholesterol, lowers HDL cholesterol and is linked to an increased risk for heart disease. Trans fat is contained in partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated fat or oil; is a form of artificial saturated fat.
Triglyceride: A type of fat that is solid at room temperature. Fat-like substance that is carried through the bloodstream to the tissues. Much of the body’s fat is stored in the form of triglycerides for use later as energy.
Unsaturated Fat: Is usually liquid at refrigerator temperature. It is primarily found in vegetable products. The two kinds of unsaturated fats are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
Vitamin: An essential compound required for good health. Vitamins are needed in trace, or minute, amounts for a variety of body processes. You need vitamins A, B series, C, D, E and K. A person deficient in a vitamin can develop disease.
VLDL Cholesterol: Also called very-low-density lipoprotein, carries cholesterol and triglycerides from the liver. After it sheds the triglycerides, it becomes LDL cholesterol.